Liquor Board's Misguided Remedy CARROLL COUNTY

October 23, 1992

If the Carroll County Liquor Board wants to pare the number of restaurants that sell too much liquor and not enough food, it ought to enforce the laws already on the books and not impose unfair burdens on new restaurants. The board's recent proposal that any restaurant opening will have to wait three months before applying for a liquor license, as a show that it is sincere about serving food and not primarily drink, will guarantee financial failure for the restaurants.

About one-fifth of an average restaurant's revenue comes from the sale of alcohol, according to national surveys. People are not going to risk tens of thousands of dollars in a restaurant investment if they can't maximize their revenues from the first day they're open. Most restaurants in Maryland run on very slim margins -- the difference between receipts and expenses. Every dollar of income is important. Denying them liquor sales is like saying a new restaurant owner should open for three months but get only 80 cents on the dollar while their established competitors get the full buck. Who in their right mind would open under such conditions?

Liquor board chairman Earle H. Brewer is trying to deal with a real problem. There are two restaurants with food sales so

meager they don't meet the county requirement that food revenues be at least 41 percent of gross sales. It is too late to impose the three-month requirement on them. Instead, the board ought to hold hearings when the eateries drop below the mandated level, warn the owners they are in jeopardy of losing their licenses and then revoke them if the restaurants can't meet the standard.

That process has worked in Baltimore, where residents of Fells Point protested that an establishment named Surfside Sally's was not a restaurant but a disco. The city's liquor board monitored the place, found its sales of food insufficient and revoked the license.

Before proceeding with this proposal, the liquor board ought to think carefully about all the ramifications. The three-month waiting period would freeze the number of restaurants in the county, inhibit competition and drive up prices of restaurant meals. Does the board want to do this when what it really needs to do is go after the small number of violators by using the strong rules already on the books?

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